By Kusha Kapila:
It was Maha Shivratri earlier this year in February. My mom made five trips to the temple in one day and expected me to go at least once. It was a big day for her. I cannot comprehend idol worship and haven’t wishfully been to a temple in years now.
After two hours of nagging and a promised incentive, my mom convinced me to go to the temple. I went, without heart and without reason. I was oblivious of the significance of the religious gala as, over the years, I have completely abandoned idol worshipping. My mom had to chaperone me at every step, from watering the shivling to greeting the pujaris. While I struggled my way through the liturgies and the half pheras, I was adrift in an unsettling thought, consumed by piercing bouts of nostalgia.
My mom believes and she has always wished for her kids to carry forth her belief. She comes from a school of thought where it is imperative to pray in the temple every day. As a child who didn’t know any better, I never questioned her faith. I did not dodge a single day when I was required to visit the temple; but as puberty hit, going to the temple meant only one thing- catching a glimpse of cute boys. Worshipping lost its meaning to the whims and fancies of adolescence.
All those years, while I was being conditioned to believe in a religion, I was mostly unaffected by it. Except for the times when I stood in prayer before each idol, puzzled and detached. Not only was I indoctrinated to pray but also, I had a set of predetermined prayers, devotedly put together by my mother. So I chanted, every week, trailing after my mom like a lost pup. From morality chants to educational pleas, my chants became serious with age, vigilantly convened by my mother. With time, I obviously became increasingly immune to the chants, occasionally concocting absurd versions of it in my mind. I prayed because it made her happy. The fact that she’d passed on a belief to me was a reason enough for her to celebrate.
I didn’t wait for my menstrual cycle to avoid temples; rather I decided to be downright blatant about my stance on religion. From being the priests’ blue-eyed girl who’d take after her mother, I was labelled a borderline rebel, slamming family traditions. I still get stifled reminiscing the day, when over a casual Sunday brunch, my affinity to English literature was held responsible for the alleged ‘digression’ by some presumptuous elders. My mother calmly sat through all my confrontations with the fuming relatives, secretly chanting the hanuman chalisa to the tune of my condescending tone. Eventually, as the elderly ran out of rebuttals, I decided to quit my vendetta against idol worship. I was trying to move deep-rooted mountains, a task that was beyond my years, I assured myself.
So when, on Maha Shivratri, my mother cajoled me into accompanying her, she considered it my ‘holy homecoming’. She held my hand, directing me to the prayer area, reinstating my aloof presence. The pujaris, who hadn’t seen me in eons, lent out a euphoric sigh on recognising me. I greeted them back, more out of affection than reverence, letting them in on my short stint at religious enthusiasm. Head bowed down, I brought my hands together and started chanting. I was overwhelmed by the innate surge of broken chants from my younger days, pitied against my conscience reactively sieving rationality through them. Irked by the fumes of nostalgia and mostly to not inhale it any further, I stubbed the memories.
That day, I was the same kid, as puzzled and as detached, only less intolerant. Like an idyllic follower, I held out a branch of my mother’s make believe world, as she eyed me dotingly. I prayed because it made her happy. She did not have to know I was pretending.
1. Maha Shivratri-Maha Shivratri is a Hindu festival celebrated every year in reverence of Lord Shiva.
2. Shivling – A representation of the Hindu deity Shiva used for worship in temples.
3. Pujaris- A Hindu priest
4. Half pheras – means of worshipping the shivling, where one is not allowed to cross over the sacred body of Lord Shiva
5. Hanuman Chalisa – Hanuman Chalisa is a devotional song based on Lord Hanuman, another Hindu god, as the model devotee.